prophecy

All According to Plan

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” – Matthew 2:13-18 ESV

After having spent more than three years of his life with Jesus, Matthew had come to believe in two things: The Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah and the providence of God. Over time, he had come to recognize that Jesus was the fulfillment of all that the prophets had written concerning long-awaited “anointed one” of God.

Matthew would have remembered the words of Jesus, spoken at the synagogue in Nazareth immediately after He had read the following passage from the scroll containing the writings of Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
– Luke 4:18-19 ESV

Jesus had read from Isaiah 61:1-2, a text that the Jews in His audience would have known carried Messianic implications. And when He had finished, He had sat down and stated: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV).

Jesus had boldly claimed to be the fulfillment of this passage. He was the anointed one of God, who possessed the Spirit of God and had been sent on a mission by God. And more than three years later, after Jesus had died and resurrected, He had suddenly appeared to two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus. Once they recognized Him as their risen Lord, Jesus had provided them with insight into His Messianic pedigree.

…beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. – Luke 24:27 ESV

Those disciples had returned to Jerusalem, where they shared the news of Jesus’ resurrection with the rest of the disciples, including Matthew. And Luke records that Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst and said to them:.

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. – Luke 24:44-45 ESV

Matthew fully believed that Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. But he also believed that God had been working providentially in the life of Jesus from the moment of His birth to the final minutes of His life on the cross. Nothing had happened that God had not ordained and providentially orchestrated, including the arrival of the Magi and the sinister reaction of Herod to the news of the birth of Israel’s new king.

All of the events surrounding Jesus’ incarnation were planned by God from eternity past. He was not operating in a reactionary mode, responding to events as they happened or forced to alter His plans based on the whims of men. Nothing was a surprise to God. There was never a moment when He was caught off guard or found Himself having to come up with plan B. 

Matthew had come to recognize that every detail concerning Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection had been providentially planned by God. Even the flight of Joseph, Mary, and their newborn son to Egypt had been part of God’s divine strategy. Matthew records that an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph, warning him in advance that Herod had evil intentions for their son.

“Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” – Matthew 2:13 ESV

Joseph had done as the angel commanded, taking his young wife and newborn son to Egypt in order to escape the wrath of Herod. And we know from the following verses, that the threat had been real, because Herod had all the male children under the age of two murdered, in a vain attempt to eliminate any potential threat to his throne.

But Herod’s plan would fail. He would prove unsuccessful in his efforts to kill the rightful heir to David’s throne. In fact, according to the Jewish historian, Josephus, Herod would die a painful and miserable death. Even Luke records that Herod would be “eaten by worms” (Acts 12:23 ESV).

But Jesus would find refuge in Egypt, much like the people of Israel had done hundreds of years earlier. Jacob and his family had also turned to Egypt when faced with a famine in the land of Canaan. And 400 years later, God would lead the people of Israel out of Egypt and return them to the land of Canaan. And the prophet Hosea would later record the news of God’s providential rescue of His people from their captivity in Egypt.

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son. – Hosea 11:1 ESV

Matthew uses this very same Old Testament passage to illustrate how Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of what happened when God had returned His “son” from Egypt. Jesus would return from a distant land “to proclaim good news to the poor…to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, (and) to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).

When God had led the people of Israel out of Egypt, He had done so in fulfillment of His promise to Abraham. He had plans to return them to the land of Canaan, which He was going to give them as an inheritance. He had promised to give Abraham a land, a seed, and a blessing. But while the Israelites finally made it to the land and eventually occupied it, they had never fully lived up to God’s expectations for them. They had proved disobedient and unfaithful. But God was still going to bless the nations through the “seed” of Abraham. And Jesus was the fulfillment of that promise. The apostle Paul made this point perfectly clear when he wrote:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:13-16 ESV

God would once again call “the seed” of Abraham out of Egypt, but this time the blessing would come to the Gentiles. Jesus would do what the Jews had failed to do. He would live in perfect obedience to the will of God, carrying out His commands and accomplishing His will. And there was nothing Herod the Great or his son and successor, Herod Antipas, could do to thwart the plans of the sovereign God. Jesus would not only return from Egypt, but He would also survive childhood, grow to be a man, and begin His earthly ministry just as God had sovereignly ordained. All according to the divine plan and in keeping with on God’s predetermined timeline. 

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. – Galatians 4:4-5 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

So What Was Spoken Might Be Fulfilled.

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead.” 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene. Matthew 2:13-23 ESV

Matthew’s record of the coming of Jesus is not merely an historical recap of the birth of a highly influential individual like Napoleon, Gandhi, George Washington or Winston Churchill. He is not attempting to provide us with an account of how this obscure Jew named Jesus was born in Bethlehem and grew to be a seminal figure in the Jewish nation. He is out to prove that Jesus was the long-awaited and highly anticipated Messiah, the Savior of the Jewish people who had been promised by God and predicted in the Hebrew Scriptures centuries earlier. That’s why Matthew goes out of his way to fill his Gospel with references to the written Word of God found in Old Testament prophetic passages and the audible word of God, spoken by angelic messengers to Mary, Joseph and others. Unlike other men, the story of Jesus does not begin with His birth. That event marks His entry into the temporal world of mankind, as the Son of God took on human flesh and came to dwell among men. But it was not His beginning. As the apostle John reminds us:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – 1 John 1:14 ESV

And in his own Gospel account, John goes on to describe the eternal nature of Jesus.

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5 ESV

We have already seen God confirm the deity of Jesus through His sending of angelic messengers to Mary and Joseph. He assured Mary that the child within her was the result of divine intervention, a miracle of God made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit. An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and confirmed that the child in Mary’s womb had been conceived by the Holy Spirit and was to be the Savior of the world. This was not going to be just another baby born to just another Hebrew couple. This baby was going to save His people from their sins. He was going to be Immanuel, which literally means “God with us.” And Matthew pointed out that, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken” (Matthew 1:22 ESV).

The wise men had traveled from a distant land in order to discover the one who would be born the king of the Jews, and they had discovered Jesus, living in obscurity in Bethlehem. But even His birthplace had been prophesied by God. Everything was happening just as God had said it would. The timing was perfect, a fact that the apostle Paul points out.

4 But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. 5 God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. – Galatians 4:4-5 NLT

And because of the jealousy of Herod, the Roman-appointed king of Judea, God ordained that Joseph take his family and escape to Egypt. Once again, the divine plan of God was revealed to Joseph through a dream, warning him of Herod’s plans and instructing him to seek safety in Egypt. And Matthew points out, “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son’” (Matthew 2:15 ESV). This was a direct quote from Hosea 11:1 and Matthew used it to prove, once again, the radically distinctive nature of Jesus and His arrival on this planet.

Matthew points out that even Herod’s merciless and brutal execution of all the baby boys in Bethlehem and the surrounding vicinity was the fulfillment of prophecy.

17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” – Matthew 2:17-18 ESV

He quotes from Jeremiah 31:15, applying its words to the very events surrounding the life of Jesus. The Word had become flesh and His arrival was met with the worship of the wise men, but also the fury of the king. There were gifts given and innocent lives taken. His birth was marked by joy and sorrow. This was far from an ordinary birth of just another nondescript Hebrew boy. This was the God-appointed Savior, the Son of God, making His entrance into the darkness of the world. And His arrival was going to be anything, but ordinary.

In time, Joseph received another divine visit, with the angel of the Lord informing him it was now safe to return to the land of Israel. Herod had died. But rather than go back to Bethlehem, the angel told Joseph to take his wife and child to the region of Galilee. And this too, was in fulfillment God’s long-standing plans concerning His Son.

And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene. – Matthew 2:23 ESV

This is not a record of events as they happened, a mere recalling or retelling of the historical facts surrounding the life of Jesus told in chronological order. They are the evidence of God’s promise of the coming Messiah and the proof of Jesus being the fulfillment of that promise. Every scene that surrounds His life provides further evidence of His deity, not just His humanity. Yes, He was born, but for a very specific reason. From the place of His birth to the location of His childhood home, all had been predetermined by God. None of this was the result of luck, chance, happenstance or fate. It was the divine will of God the had been prepared from before the foundation of the world. Jesus was not a baby born to become the Messiah. He was the Messiah who was born as a baby. He wasn’t destined to become King of the Jews. He came into the world that way. So what was spoken might be fulfilled.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Pride of the Nations.

“You are my hammer and weapon of war:
with you I break nations in pieces;
    with you I destroy kingdoms;
with you I break in pieces the horse and his rider;
    with you I break in pieces the chariot and the charioteer;
with you I break in pieces man and woman;
    with you I break in pieces the old man and the youth;
with you I break in pieces the young man and the young woman;
    with you I break in pieces the shepherd and his flock;
with you I break in pieces the farmer and his team;
    with you I break in pieces governors and commanders.

“I will repay Babylon and all the inhabitants of Chaldea before your very eyes for all the evil that they have done in Zion, declares the Lord.

“Behold, I am against you, O destroying mountain,
declares the Lord,
    which destroys the whole earth;
I will stretch out my hand against you,
    and roll you down from the crags,
    and make you a burnt mountain.
No stone shall be taken from you for a corner
    and no stone for a foundation,
but you shall be a perpetual waste,
    declares the Lord.

“Set up a standard on the earth;
    blow the trumpet among the nations;
prepare the nations for war against her;
    summon against her the kingdoms,
    Ararat, Minni, and Ashkenaz;
appoint a marshal against her;
    bring up horses like bristling locusts.
Prepare the nations for war against her,
    the kings of the Medes, with their governors and deputies,
    and every land under their dominion.
The land trembles and writhes in pain,
    for the Lord's purposes against Babylon stand,
to make the land of Babylon a desolation,
    without inhabitant.
The warriors of Babylon have ceased fighting;
    they remain in their strongholds;
their strength has failed;
    they have become women;
her dwellings are on fire;
    her bars are broken.
One runner runs to meet another,
    and one messenger to meet another,
to tell the king of Babylon
    that his city is taken on every side;
the fords have been seized,
    the marshes are burned with fire,
    and the soldiers are in panic.
For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel:
The daughter of Babylon is like a threshing floor
    at the time when it is trodden;
yet a little while
    and the time of her harvest will come.”

“Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon has devoured me;
    he has crushed me;
he has made me an empty vessel;
    he has swallowed me like a monster;
he has filled his stomach with my delicacies;
    he has rinsed me out.
The violence done to me and to my kinsmen be upon Babylon,”
    let the inhabitant of Zion say.
“My blood be upon the inhabitants of Chaldea,”
    let Jerusalem say. – Jeremiah 51:20-34 ESV

 

Ten times in this section, God refers to an unknown entity with whom He would break the nation of Babylon. He calls this unnamed nation or alliance of nations “my hammer and weapon of war.” Repeatedly He states, “with you I break in pieces”, and then describes the various people and places He will destroy using this instrument of destruction. And the primary focus of their attention will be the nation of Babylon.

“I will repay Babylon
    and the people of Babylonia
for all the wrong they have done
    to my people in Jerusalem,” says the Lord. – Jeremiah 51:24 NLT

God describes Babylon as a “ destroying mountain,” but they will prove no match for Him. Mountains are an image of stability and power, immovable and virtually insurmountable. They appear as barriers and serve as protection to nations, denying easy access to their borders by their enemies. Babylon was massive and a force with which to be reckoned, but God warns them, “When I am finished, you will be nothing but a heap of burnt rubble” (Jeremiah 51:25 NLT).

God issues a battle cry, summoning the forces of Ararat, Minni, and Ashkenaz. These were nations located to the north of Babylon. They would join the Medes in forming a massive army, with the horses of this combined army descending on Babylon like locusts. The result of this alliance on Babylon would be devastating. They would stand no chance. And in just a limited amount of time, the once great nation of Babylon would be completely destroyed, wiped off the map.

Babylon will be left desolate without a single inhabitant. – Jeremiah 51:29 NLT

But as we have noticed before, this has to refer to an as-yet-unfulfilled event, because when the Babylonians fell to the Persians in 539 BC, the nation was not wiped off the face of the earth. The city of Babylon was spared and made a part of the Persian empire. The people of Babylon were simply assimilated into the Persian culture. But what God is describing here, through His prophet, Jeremiah, is the complete annihilation of Babylon. That has not yet happened. And while there is no nation of Babylon at the present time, there is a day coming when Babylon will rise again and become a major force during the end times. Whether or not the actual city of Babylon will be rebuilt is not entirely clear. But the spirit of the nation of Babylon has continued on through the centuries, even after its fall to the Persians. It’s love for wealth, power, and domination can be found throughout the nations of the earth and will only increase in intensity after the rapture of the church. The period of the tribulation will be marked with the rise of the antichrist, who will rule at the head of a world-confederation of nations. This new-Babylon will put the original nation to shame in terms of its decadence, power, and devastating influence over the world scene. Daniel provides a glimpse of what this day will look like.

Then he said to me, “This fourth beast is the fourth world power that will rule the earth. It will be different from all the others. It will devour the whole world, trampling and crushing everything in its path. Its ten horns are ten kings who will rule that empire. Then another king will arise, different from the other ten, who will subdue three of them. He will defy the Most High and oppress the holy people of the Most High. He will try to change their sacred festivals and laws, and they will be placed under his control for a time, times, and half a time.

“But then the court will pass judgment, and all his power will be taken away and completely destroyed. Then the sovereignty, power, and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be given to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will last forever, and all rulers will serve and obey him.” – Daniel 7:23-27 NLT

This was part of a vision given to Daniel who was exiled to Babylon along with the rest of the people of Judah. God gave him this vision during the reign of King Belshazzar of Babylon. This vision was a God-ordained glimpse into the distant future, providing a detailed description of the fall of this future “Babylon.” And the book of Revelation provides yet another description of her fall.

“She glorified herself and lived in luxury,
    so match it now with torment and sorrow.
She boasted in her heart,
    ‘I am queen on my throne.
I am no helpless widow,
    and I have no reason to mourn.’
Therefore, these plagues will overtake her in a single day—
    death and mourning and famine.
She will be completely consumed by fire,
    for the Lord God who judges her is mighty.” – Revelation 18:7-8 NLT

Like the Babylon of Jeremiah’s day, this future Babylon will be marked by pride, arrogance, a love of wealth and luxury, and an obsession with world domination. But all the nations of the world that chose to do business with her would one day stand back in wonder, dumbstruck at her devastating demise.

“How terrible, how terrible for that great city!
    She was clothed in finest purple and scarlet linens,
    decked out with gold and precious stones and pearls!
In a single moment
    all the wealth of the city is gone!” – Revelation 18:16-17 NLT

To this day, we see nations who wield great power and enjoy tremendous wealth and privilege. Their economies flourish while other nations struggle to exist. They buy and sell goods, profiting from their international commerce. They are self-sufficient, having no need of God. They worship the gods of money, power, and pleasure. But all of these nations will eventually fall. Their day in the sunshine will one day end. Their place of prominence on the world stage will not last forever. They are no match for God. He may choose to use them to accomplish His will, but He does not need them. And He will not share His glory with them. Their prideful arrogance will be broken. Their egotistical belief that they are self-made and unstoppable will end in disaster and devastation. They will all suffer the same ignoble fate as King Nebuchadnezzar and his great nation of Babylon.

“King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon has eaten and crushed us
    and drained us of strength.
He has swallowed us like a great monster
    and filled his belly with our riches.
    He has thrown us out of our own country.
Make Babylon suffer as she made us suffer,”
    say the people of Zion.
“Make the people of Babylonia pay for spilling our blood,”
    says Jerusalem. – Jeremiah 51:34-35 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Nothing Is Too Hard For You.

“After I had given the deed of purchase to Baruch the son of Neriah, I prayed to the Lord, saying: ‘Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you. You show steadfast love to thousands, but you repay the guilt of fathers to their children after them, O great and mighty God, whose name is the Lord of hosts, great in counsel and mighty in deed, whose eyes are open to all the ways of the children of man, rewarding each one according to his ways and according to the fruit of his deeds. You have shown signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, and to this day in Israel and among all mankind, and have made a name for yourself, as at this day. You brought your people Israel out of the land of Egypt with signs and wonders, with a strong hand and outstretched arm, and with great terror. And you gave them this land, which you swore to their fathers to give them, a land flowing with milk and honey. And they entered and took possession of it. But they did not obey your voice or walk in your law. They did nothing of all you commanded them to do. Therefore you have made all this disaster come upon them. Behold, the siege mounds have come up to the city to take it, and because of sword and famine and pestilence the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans who are fighting against it. What you spoke has come to pass, and behold, you see it. Yet you, O Lord God, have said to me, “Buy the field for money and get witnesses”—though the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans.’” Jeremiah 32:16-25 ESV

If anybody but God had recommended to Jeremiah that he make a long-term investment in real estate located in Judah, he would have told them to take a hike. But when God commanded that Jeremiah buy land from his cousin, Hanamel, he obeyed. No, it didn’t make any sense. Paying good money for land that had been confiscated by the occupying forces of King Nebuchadnezzar had to have seemed like a lousy investment strategy – even to Jeremiah. But he did what the Lord commanded. Then he prayed. And in his prayer, he communicated to God his confusion over what had just transpired. But first, he started by praising God for His great power. He acknowledge that God was the creator of the universe. He acknowledged God’s unfailing love, but also noted that God was just and righteous, giving people exactly what they deserve. He confessed that God had a reputation for doing great things for His people, having delivered them from captivity in Egypt. Then He had given them the land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey, helping them take it from the pagan people groups that occupied upon their arrival. And Jeremiah praises God's all-powerful capacity to come to the aid of His people, acknowledging that “Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17 ESV). Now, part of that is probably Jeremiah speaking what he cognitively knows to be true, but he is obviously wrestling with it on a practical level. While he has praised God for His power and the unquestionable reliability of His word, he ends his prayer with the statement:

Yet you, O Lord God, have said to me, ‘Buy the field for money and get witnesses’—though the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans.” – Jeremiah 32:25 ESV

Everything God had said would happen to the people of Judah had happened. He had brought disaster upon them in the form of the Babylonians. Siege walls had been erected the city of Jerusalem. Famine and pestilence had already begun with the city because of the blockade created by the Babylonian forces. Food was not making its way into Jerusalem. People were dying of hunger and, as a result, disease was spreading among the living. And Jeremiah tells God, “What you spoke has come to pass, and behold, you see it” (Jeremiah 32:24 ESV).

And this is where Jeremiah becomes a bit incredulous. With all that is taking place, he can’t believe that God would have him buy land in Judah. Even though he believes that nothing is too difficult for God, he is having a hard time getting his head around the idea that one day land in Judah will be of any value again. This prayer is a great reminder to each of us that trusting God will not always be painless or doubt-free. Jeremiah believed in God. He had seen God do incredible things. He had watched as every single one of God’s pronouncements against Judah had come about. He knew God was reliable and trustworthy. He was convinced that God was fully capable of accomplishing anything and everything He promised to do. But now that Jeremiah had a personal investment in the future of God’s restoration of Judah, he was struggling with some doubts. Now, he was personally dependent upon God to one day restore the people to the land. And it had to have crossed Jeremiah’s mind that he would not be around when that event took place. God had already said that the people of Judah would be in captivity for 70 years.

“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” – Jeremiah 29:10-11 ESV

There is no way Jeremiah would live long enough to see that day. So, God’s command that he buy land in Judah had to have seemed that much more strange to him. How would he ever know how things turned out in the future? What guarantees did he have that his descendants would occupy the land he purchased? He was going to have to trust God. As we looked at yesterday. the author of Hebrews describes faith as “being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1 NLT). Jeremiah could see the Babylonian troops and the siege walls. He was fully convinced that God’s promises come true, because they were staring him straight in the face. But when it came to the promise of the restoration of the people to the land, something God had said would happen 70 years later, Jeremiah was a bit less adamant in his belief.

In speaking of the faith of Abraham and Sarah, the author of Hebrews says they “died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13 NLT). That is exactly what God was asking Jeremiah to do. By having Jeremiah purchase the land in Anathoth, God was forcing Jeremiah to put his hope and trust in something he couldn’t yet see. Not only that, he would never live to see it happen. But this was about far more than just a piece of property in Anathoth. This was about the far-in-the-distance promises of God. At the end of Hebrews 11, the author states:

And these all were commended for their faith, yet they did not receive what was promised. For God had provided something better for us, so that they would be made perfect together with us. – Hebrews 11:39-40 NLT

Each of the patriarchs listed in this great "Hall of Faith" died without having seen the promises of God fulfilled in their entirety. Moses never entered the land of promise. Jacob and his son Joseph would each die in Egypt, but both believing that their descendants would one day return to the land. Joseph even made his brothers promise to take his bones with them when the did return. Sarah had to believe that God was going to bless her with many descendants, even though Isaac would be the only one she would live long enough to see with her own eyes. She never lived to see the incredible fulfillment of God’s promise to she and Abraham. But she believed. And Jeremiah was going to have to believe God as well. The land purchased by Jeremiah would one day be inhabited by his descendants. No, he would not be around to see it, but he could trust God for it. And as Jeremiah stated in his prayer, nothing is too difficult for God. But he was going to have to trust God for that which he could not see. The apostle Paul puts it this way:

Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. – Romans 8:24-25 NLT

Paul emphasized the same thing to the Corinthian believers.

So we don't look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:18 NLT

For we live by believing and not by seeing. – 2 Corinthians 5:7 NLT

Jeremiah had been forced to invest in the trustworthiness of God. And isn’t that what each of us does when we place our faith in Jesus? We are believing in that which we cannot see. We are investing in a future that has not yet happened or realized. In His great Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke these powerful words that echo the expectation God was placing on Jeremiah by having him buy the land.

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” – Matthew 6:19-21 NLT

In essence, Jeremiah’s investment was a heavenly one. He was buying temporal land, but it was based on eternal and spiritual promises given by God Himself. His purchase was not based on earthly financial strategies. It was in obedience to the word of God and solely based on the trustworthiness of God to accomplish His divine will – even if Jeremiah never lived to see it happen. Now, that is faith.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson≠≠

We Come to You.

And when you have multiplied and been fruitful in the land, in those days, declares the Lord, they shall no more say, “The ark of the covenant of the Lord.” It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again. At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem, and they shall no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart. In those days the house of Judah shall join the house of Israel, and together they shall come from the land of the north to the land that I gave your fathers for a heritage.

“‘I said,
    How I would set you among my sons,
and give you a pleasant land,
    a heritage most beautiful of all nations.
And I thought you would call me, My Father,
    and would not turn from following me.
Surely, as a treacherous wife leaves her husband,
    so have you been treacherous to me, O house of Israel,
declares the Lord.’”

A voice on the bare heights is heard,
    the weeping and pleading of Israel’s sons
because they have perverted their way;
    they have forgotten the Lord their God.
“Return, O faithless sons;
    I will heal your faithlessness.”
“Behold, we come to you,
    for you are the Lord our God.
Truly the hills are a delusion,
    the orgies on the mountains.
Truly in the Lord our God
    is the salvation of Israel.

“But from our youth the shameful thing has devoured all for which our fathers labored, their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters. Let us lie down in our shame, and let our dishonor cover us. For we have sinned against the Lord our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even to this day, and we have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God.” – Jeremiah 3:16-25 ESV

God has called the people of Israel to return to Him. He told them, “‘Come back to me, my wayward sons,’ says the Lord, ‘for I am your true master. If you do, I will take one of you from each town and two of you from each family group, and I will bring you back to Zion.’” (Jeremiah 3:14 NLT). The word for “master” that God uses is actually the Hebrew word ba`al and it is obviously similar to the name of the false god, Baal, whom the Israelites worshiped. The word ba`al can be translated as “master or husband” and carries the idea of dominion. It seems that God was using a play on words, telling His people that if they would give up their false gods (Baal), and return to Him, He would be there real master and faithful husband. And unlike a lifeless idol, God would give them blessings. He would provide them leaders who would prove faithful to him and capable of providing knowledge and insight. And even though God predicts that just a remnant will end up returning to Him, He promises to multiply them in the land. 

In 538 B.C., after the people of Judah had been in captivity in Babylon for 70 years, God arranged for a remnant of them to return to the land of promise. Cyrus, the Persian king, issued a decree that allowed the Jews to return the their land and even funded their trip.

In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order to fulfill the Lord’s message spoken through Jeremiah, the Lord stirred the mind of King Cyrus of Persia. He disseminated a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom, announcing in a written edict the following:

“Thus says King Cyrus of Persia:

“‘The Lord God of heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has instructed me to build a temple for him in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Anyone from his people among you (may his God be with him!) may go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and may build the temple of the Lord God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. Anyone who survives in any of those places where he is a resident foreigner must be helped by his neighbors with silver, gold, equipment, and animals, along with voluntary offerings for the temple of God which is in Jerusalem.’” – Ezra 1:1-4 NLT

Not all of the Jews took Cyrus’ offer to return to Jerusalem. After 70 years of captivity, they had acclimated to life in Babylon and preferred to stay where they were. Many were probably turned off by the prospect of the long journey home and the prospect of returning to a destroyed city with few, in any, amenities. They were not interested in doing manual labor in a land with no king, no army and trying to survive in a city that had been completely destroyed 70 years earlier. But a few did return. They made the long trek back and, under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and reconstructed the temple.

But much of what God promises in these verses has yet to happen. This is typical of many Old Testament prophecies. There is a now/not yet aspect to this prophecy. It will be partially fulfilled when the people return to the land in 538 B.C., but it will not be fully fulfilled until a later time. God says:

“At that time the city of Jerusalem will be called the Lord’s throne. All nations will gather there in Jerusalem to honor the Lord’s name. They will no longer follow the stubborn inclinations of their own evil hearts. At that time the nation of Judah and the nation of Israel will be reunited. Together they will come back from a land in the north to the land that I gave to your ancestors as a permanent possession.” – Jeremiah 3:17-18 NLT

It isn’t difficult to see that this has not yet happened. The nations have not gathered in Jerusalem to honor the Lord’s name. In fact, in anything, the nations have gathered around Israel in order to destroy it. There are countless nations that would like to see Israel eliminated and its sovereign status annulled. This portion of God’s prophecy has yet to be fulfilled. But it will be.

From the day God determined to make Israel His own, He has longed to see them serve Him faithfully and love Him unconditionally. But despite all that God had done for them, they had proven to be anything but faithful.

“Oh what a joy it would be for me to treat you like a son!
What a joy it would be for me to give you a pleasant land,
the most beautiful piece of property there is in all the world!’
I thought you would call me, ‘Father’
and would never cease being loyal to me.
But, you have been unfaithful to me, nation of Israel,
like an unfaithful wife who has left her husband,”
says the Lord. – Jeremiah 3:19-20 NLT

These verses seem to indicate that God was totally caught off guard and surprised by Israel’s unfaithfulness. But He wasn’t. God knew they would prove to be unfaithful, and He had planned all along for their eventual destruction and captivity. When He had given them the Mosaic law, God knew they would fail to keep it. He had warned them that they would need to be obedient in order to receive His blessings. And He had told them that disobedience would lead to curses. And He had been very specific about what those curses would entail.

The Lord will force you and your king whom you will appoint over you to go away to a people whom you and your ancestors have not known, and you will serve other gods of wood and stone there. You will become an occasion of horror, a proverb, and an object of ridicule to all the peoples to whom the Lord will drive you. – Deuteronomy 28:36-37 NLT

God had not been surprised by Israel’s apostasy. He had planned for it. Left to their own devices, Israel had proven to be like every other nation: sinful and stubborn. While they had been chosen by God, their sinful natures had led them to choose false gods. Sin came naturally to them. And as a result, they turned their backs on God.

Indeed they have followed sinful ways;
they have forgotten to be true to the Lord their God. – Jeremiah 3:21b NLT

But God proved faithful to them. In fact, throughout their history, God has shown His love for Israel by constantly calling them to repentance.

“Come back to me, you wayward people.
I want to cure your waywardness.” – Jeremiah 3:22 NLT

God simply wanted them to return to Him and admit the folly of their ways. He was looking for confession, not a complete reversal of their behavior. He wasn’t expecting them to fix all their problems on their own and clean up their act before He would accept them. He just wanted them to confess what they had done to offend Him.

“Say, ‘Here we are. We come to you
because you are the Lord our God.
We know our noisy worship of false gods
on the hills and mountains did not help us.
We know that the Lord our God
is the only one who can deliver Israel.’” – Jeremiah 3:22-23 NLT

Notice those four simple words: “We come to you.” They are reminiscent of the words of Jesus spoke to the people of Israel when He appeared on the scene: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 NLT). God and His Son both invited Israel to come to them with an attitude of dependency, with arms outstretched. They simply needed to admit their weariness and confess their wickedness. Their turning to God was to be an acknowledgement that He was their only source of deliverance. 

“Let us acknowledge our shame.
Let us bear the disgrace that we deserve.
For we have sinned against the Lord our God.” – Jeremiah 3:25 NLT

Come to me. That is God’s standing invitation and it always has been. He invites us to come to Him in humility and brokenness, ready to receive from Him what we could never have found anywhere else: Help, hope, strength, forgiveness, mercy, love and eternal life. But we have to come. And when we do, the benefits are unbelievable.

“Come, let’s consider your options,” says the Lord.
“Though your sins have stained you like the color red,
you can become white like snow;
though they are as easy to see as the color scarlet,
you can become white like wool.” – Isaiah 1:18 NLT

And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say: “Come!” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wants it take the water of life free of charge. – Revelation 22:17 NLT

Everyone whom the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never send away. – John 6:37 NLT

Seek the Lord while he makes himself available;
call to him while he is nearby!
The wicked need to abandon their lifestyle
and sinful people their plans.
They should return to the Lord, and he will show mercy to them,
and to their God, for he will freely forgive them. – Isaiah 55:6-7 NLT

Israel had a standing invitation from God. And they had an unbreakable promise from God. He would one day restore them. He would one day do for them what they could not do for themselves. He would redeem them and restore them to a right relationship with Him. He would give them new hearts and a new capacity to live faithfully and love Him fully.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Difficult Calling.

The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, one of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the Lord came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, and until the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah, the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the captivity of Jerusalem in the fifth month. – Jeremiah 1:1-3 ESV

The book of Jeremiah is named for the man who penned it. He was a prophet who lived during the late seventh and early sixth-century within the territory of Judah, also known as the southern kingdom. During his lifetime and ministry, the nation of Israel was divided into two kingdoms: Israel in the north and Judah to the south. This division had come about because of the sins of Solomon, the king of Israel and the son of David. Solomon had started out well, but had finished poorly. The book of 1 Kings provides us with a synopsis of the epic failure of his once-mighty kingdom and reign.

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. – 1 Kings 11:1-4 ESV

As a result of Solomon’s unfaithfulness, God determined to split the kingdom in two. He would preserve the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin, in keeping with the covenant He had made with King David. Many years earlier, when David was king, he had determined to build a great temple for God, but God turned down David’s offer and, instead, told him that He would build David a house.

“And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more.

“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.

And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” – 2 Samuel 7:9-10, 12-13, 16 ESV

This promise was partially fulfilled in Solomon, David’s son. But it’s true and ultimate fulfillment were to be found in Jesus Christ, the descendant of David whose kingdom will be established in the end times. He will be the one to rule and reign over a kingdom that will have no end.

While Solomon did end up building a great temple for the Lord, he also erected altars to the gods of his many wives so that they could offer sacrifices to them.

For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. – 1 Kings 11:5-7 ESV

As a result of his blatant disobedience, Solomon would be punished by God. He would be allowed to finish his reign, but once Solomon was dead, God would split the kingdom in two.

Behold, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon and will give you ten tribes (but he shall have one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city that I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel), because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the Ammonites, and they have not walked in my ways, doing what is right in my sight and keeping my statutes and my rules, as David his father did.” – 1 Kings 11:31-33 ESV

The southern kingdom of Judah was the one to which Jeremiah was commissioned to speak on behalf of God. We are told in verse two that Jeremiah began to prophesy in the 13th year of King Josiah’s reign. This would have been the year 627 B.C. He would have been about 20 years old at the time. His prophetic ministry most likely lasted four decades, and spanned the reigns of five different kings. Jeremiah would begin his ministry under the rule of Josiah, the reformer-king, who instituted many important spiritual changes within the kingdom. But those reforms would not last long. Each successive king led the people of Judah down a path that resulted in increasing disobedience and moral decay. All during this time, the threat of annihilation at the hands of the Babylonians was an ever-present reality.

It was into this unstable and immoral environment that Jeremiah was called to minister on behalf of God. By the time Jeremiah came along, the northern kingdom of Israel had already fallen to the Assyrians. This took place in 722 B.C. The book of 2 Kings provides us a summary of what happened and the cause behind it.

In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had practiced. And the people of Israel did secretly against the Lord their God things that were not right. They built for themselves high places in all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city. They set up for themselves pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree, and there they made offerings on all the high places, as the nations did whom the Lord carried away before them. And they did wicked things, provoking the Lord to anger, and they served idols, of which the Lord had said to them, “You shall not do this.” Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets.”

But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the Lord their God. – 2 Kings 17:6-14 ESV

The people living in the southern kingdom of Judah had watched all this take place. They had been eye-witnesses to the moral decline of their northern neighbors and had stood by and watched as God sent His prophets, calling the people of Israel to repentance, and warning them of impending doom if they failed to return to Him. And they had seen God keep His word, as Samaria, the capital city of Israel was destroyed and the people of Israel were taken into captivity by the Assyrians.

And yet, the people of Judah seemed to learn nothing from Israel’s mistakes. In spite of the early reforms of Josiah, they would continue to model the immoral behavior of their Israelite cousins. In fact, we’re told in the book of 2 Kings:

Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight. None was left but the tribe of Judah only.

Judah also did not keep the commandments of the Lord their God, but walked in the customs that Israel had introduced. – 2 Kings 17:18-19 ESV

So God called Jeremiah. It was Jeremiah “to whom the word of the Lord came” (Jeremiah 1:2 ESV). He would become God’s spokesman, His mouthpiece, declaring His message of repentance and warnings of God’s wrath if they failed to obey and return to Him. As we will see, Jeremiah’s mission was anything but easy. For nearly four decades, he would declare the word of the Lord, finding few who would listen to His message. He would face increasing opposition and find himself persona non grata, an unwelcome fixture in his homeland. He will provide us with insights into what it was like to be a prophet of God in those trying times. It was a difficult and lonely life. His ministry would feel fruitless. His words would fall on deaf ears. But Jeremiah would prove faithful to the end. He would stay the course and complete the assignment given to him by God. He would struggle with despondency and despair. There would be days when he wanted to quit. At times, he would grow angry with God. On more than one occasion, he would boldly speak his mind to God and express his growing frustration with the Almighty. But he never gave up. He kept doing what he had been called to do, all the way up to the fall of Jerusalem. Jeremiah will be a compelling picture of faithfulness in the face of difficulty and perseverance based on obedience, not success.  

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

God of Peace.

What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. – 1 Corinthians 14:26-33 ESV

The very fact that Paul is going into this great amount of detail regarding the gifts reveals that this was a real problem for the church in Corinth. This was not a case of the gifts being in short supply. They seemed to have them in abundance. But they were confused as to their purpose and were neglecting to practice them in a spirit of love. So now, Paul gives more specific comments regarding their use in corporate worship. “When you come together,” Paul says, “each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.” The gifts were designed primarily for use within the community and Paul makes clear their intended purpose: “Let all things be done for building up.” They were not designed to get attention or to make the one with the gift look good. And they most certainly were not to be used in a competitive or chaotic way. It seems that the Corinthians were in the habit of practicing their gifts almost like it was a competition. There was no order to their services. Everyone was prophesying, singing, teaching, and speaking in tongues at the same time. Which is what let Paul to say, “God is not a God of confusion, but of peace.”

The gift of tongues was not to dominate the corporate gathering. As Paul made clear earlier, tongues were intended for the lost, not believers. But if someone was going to practice the gift of tongues within the worship service, there must be someone there to interpret what was said. Otherwise, they were to remain silent. And Paul restricted the use of tongues to no more than three individuals per worship service. He did the same thing with the gift of prophecy. “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said” (1 Corinthians 14:29 ESV). The worship service was not to be a circus or free-for-all, with everyone speaking at the same time or saying whatever they felt led to say. Even those with a prophetic word were to be evaluated by others with the same gift. There had to be a confirmation of what was being said. Just because someone prophesied did not mean that what they said was true. There was a need for the congregation and others with the gift of prophecy to ascertain whether what was being said was of God. This is an important distinction. Not all tongues is of God. Not all prophecy is of God. Not all revelation is of God. The gifts can be easily replicated and done apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. There are many who claim to prophesy in the name of God, but their words are not from God. There are those who claim to have the gift of tongues, but they do not practice them according to Scripture. There is no interpretation. There is no message. And no one, except the one speaking in tongues, is built up. To Paul, this was all unacceptable. It was more evident of the former pagan background of the Corinthians than than it was of God’s intended form of worship for the church.  

The theological point is crucial: the character of one’s deity is reflected in the character of one’s worship. The Corinthians must therefore cease worship that reflects the pagan deities more than the God whom they have come to know through the Lord Jesus Christ. God is neither characterized by disorder nor the cause of it in the assembly. – Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians

Order. Edification. Peace. Godliness. Love. All of these things were to characterize the corporate worship of the body of Christ. God had given the gifts to assist in the building up of the saints. When the Spirit of God was at work within the congregation, it would be evident. There would be a spirit of love present. Orderliness, not confusion, would characterize the assembly. The gifts would be complimentary, not competitive. The use of the gifts would be dictated by the Spirit of God, not the selfish desires of men. And the result would be the edification of all, not the elevation of one.

 

Immaturity and Spirituality.

Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. – 1 Corinthians 14:20-25 ESV

The Corinthians had revealed their spiritual immaturity to Paul by elevating the gift of tongues to a primary position. They saw speaking in tongues as a sign of spirituality and were pursuing and practicing that gift to the detriment of the body of Christ. So Paul calls them out and encourages them to “grow up” in their thinking. It is one thing to be innocent when it comes to evil, but they were acting like children when it came to the gifts God had given to the church. They were enamored by the more showy, flamboyant gifts and were allowing jealousy, pride and envy to characterize their use of the gifts, rather than the mutual edification of one another.

One of the most important distinctions Paul makes about the gift of tongues is regarding its purpose or objective. He quotes a passage from Isaiah 28 to show that tongues “are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers” (1 Corinthians 14:22 ESV). The context of the Isaiah passage is that God had sent Isaiah to warn the people of Israel of the coming invasion of the Assyrians. He has been calling them to repent and return to Him as their God, but they have stubbornly refused the calls of the prophet, Isaiah. Isaiah had been speaking to them in their own language, but they had refused to listen. So Isaiah warns them that God was going to send the Assyrians, and “by people of strange lips and with a foreign tongue the Lord will speak to this people” (Isaiah 28:11 ESV). Their unbelief and stubbornness was going to force God to punish them by sending them into captivity, but even then they would not repent.

Paul is trying to get them to think logically and maturely about their view of tongues. He even uses a real-life scenario to make his point. “If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?” (1 Corinthians 14:23 ESV). In other words, if tongues is the superior gift they seem to think it is and everyone in the church practiced it at the same time, what would unbelievers think when they walked in the door and experienced the chaos and confusion firsthand? They would most likely conclude that Christians were crazy. Rather than see Christians living and worshiping together in unity, they would experience a spirit of competition. Instead of hearing a clearly articulated and understandable delivery of the gospel, they would walk away confused and convinced that Christianity was no different than the pagan religions with which they were already familiar. It is important to note that Paul is describing a time of corporate worship. This is supposed to be a time when the body of Christ gathers for worship and mutual edification.

If we look back at Acts 2 and see the first evidence of the gift of tongues being used, we see that it was not during a time of corporate worship. They had been waiting together in a room, just as Jesus had instructed them to do. And then something happened.

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. – Acts 2:1-4 ESV

And there was a purpose behind this one-of-a-kind event. Luke goes on to record:

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? – Acts 2:5-8 ESV

In this case, they all spoke in tongues at the same time. A scenario much like Paul described in his example. But the reason was simple. There were thousands of people present who were from other countries and who spoke other languages. And each was able to hear what was being said in their own language. And the result of this amazing event was that 3,000 people came to faith in Christ. The gift of tongues had a purpose. It was God-ordained and Holy Spirit-directed. But this was not intended to be the norm. It was not a prescribed method or form of worship for the early church. And yet the Corinthians had childishly elevated tongues to a superior position, misunderstanding its purpose and missing the point behind what God was trying to do in their midst.

Ultimately, Paul was interested in heart change. He compares tongues with the gift ofprophecy, describing another scenario in which a lost person visits the corporate worship service. This time, rather than confusion and chaos, they hear the truth being proclaimed through the gift of prophecy. Paul says, “they will be convicted of sin and judged by what you say. As they listen, their secret thoughts will be exposed, and they will fall to their knees and worship God, declaring, ‘God is truly here among you’” (1 Corinthians 14:24;25 NLT). Understandable truth results in undeniable heart change. Revelation brings about redemption. Edification and evangelism were the primary purpose behind the gifts when the church gathered. There would be a proper place and time for the gift of tongues, but it had to be Spirit-determined and directed. Choosing to use gifts because of their seeming spirituality revealed an immature perspective. It was childish and short-sighted. A more mature outlook would view the gifts as given by God and up to Him to use as He sees fit, with the ultimate purpose being the building up the body of Christ.

 

Edification, Not Emotion.

Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue. – 1 Corinthians 14:13-19 ESV

Once again, Paul emphasizes the importance of the spiritual gifts as tools given by God for the mutual edification of the body of Christ. He indicates that a person who prays during worship using an unknown language may be giving thanks to God, but the rest of the congregation will not be built up. They will not understand what is being said, so they will be unable to join in thanksgiving. In fact, Paul says that someone praying in a tongue has no idea what they are saying as well. “For if I pray in tongues, my spirit is praying, but I don’t understand what I am saying” (1 Corinthians 14:14 NLT). That’s why Paul encourages those who say they have the gift of tongues to pray that they might also be given the ability to interpret what they are saying. The spiritual part of a believer’s life was not to be viewed as separate or distinct from their intellectual or cognitive capacities. God puts a high priority on knowledge. He wants us to know Him. He desires for us to know truth. He wants us to “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19 ESV). Even Paul said, “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death” (Philippians 3:10 NLT).

Earlier in this same letter, Paul spoke of the Spirit’s role in helping believers understand and comprehend the mind of God.

For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. – 1 Corinthians 2:10-13 NLT

The Spirit of God exists to make God known. He helps us understand those things given to us by God. Without the Spirit living within us, we would still be natural and not spiritual. And the “natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV).

So the Spirit within us is there to help us understand. And when the Spirit speaks through us by means of our gift, others should be able to understand as well. They should be drawn closer to God. But Paul indicates that the gift of tongues, without interpretation, is of no use to anyone. It may make the one speaking feel spiritual, but there is no benefit to their understanding. Underlying all of this is Paul’s emphasis on the content of the message. What is being said is far more important than the means or the method of delivery. That’s why he makes the very bold statement: “But in a church meeting I would rather speak five understandable words to help others than ten thousand words in an unknown language” (1 Corinthians 14:19 NLT). He is discounting the validity of tongues as a gift, but he is elevating the priority of communication and edification. 

One of the more difficult portions of this passage to understand is Paul’s claim, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you” (1 Corinthians 14:18 ESV). Many in the charismatic movement who view tongues as ecstatic utterances and not actual languages, use this verse as proof that Paul used the gift of tongues in secret. But in every case where tongues is mentioned in the New Testament, it is in a corporate context. And it always involves unbelievers, such as on the day of Pentecost. Paul will even go on to clarify that “tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers” (1 Corinthians 14:22 ESV). So what does Paul mean when he says that he speaks in tongues more than any of them. I think Paul is using sarcasm. He is actually saying that what they are claiming to be the gift of tongues is not tongues at all. Paul had evidently spoken in tongues before. And more than likely he did so in keeping with the New Testament criteria that it be done for the benefit of non-believers. More than likely Paul was given the use of tongues when he spoke in the synagogues in the towns he visited. There would have been non-Jews present who had become followers of Yahweh. They would have spoken other languages and it is likely that it was on those occasions that Paul spoke in tongues, using languages that would be understood by those present. 

But the bottom line for Paul was using the gifts properly and in keeping with God’s design for them. If they did not benefit others, either the lost or other believers, they were being misused, even abused. Paul will go on to use an absurd example intended to show the danger of the Corinthian’s improper view of gifts. If one Sunday the entire congregation broke out in the gift of tongues and an unbeliever walked in the door, they would probably conclude that everyone had lost their minds. The disciples of Jesus got a similar response when they spoke in tongues at Pentecost. Some were amazed, others were perplexed, and then there were those who just accused them of being drunk. But Peter used the opportunity to share the gospel. The gift of tongues had a divine purpose. Any gift that does not edify is being misused. Any view of the gifts that emphasizes the emotions over spiritual edification is misguided and dangerous. There must be a benefit to the entire congregation. Which is why Paul said, “if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching?” (1 Corinthians 14:6 ESV). When we are operating in the power of the Spirit, it is for the benefit of all. It is for the building up of the body of Christ, not the individual.

He Is Coming!

Daniel 11-12, Revelation 22

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” – Revelation 22:20 ESV

As the books of Daniel and Revelation both come to a close, they provide encouraging reminders that the events recorded in them will take place. Daniel is told to “shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end” (Daniel 12:4 ESV). He is to seal up what is contained in the prophesies provided by God and preserve them. God was not telling Daniel to hide them, but to make sure that he preserved them so that the words contained within them would be proven true when all took place just as God had said. In the book of Revelation, John is told, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near” (Revelation 22:10 ESV). This was an indication that the end was close. The culmination of all God's plans for the redemption of mankind were nearer than they had ever been. There is a surety and a certainty contained in both of these books. What God has said will take place. What He has prophesied will come to pass. There will be much that will happen between now and the end of time. Daniel was told of events involving the nations of the world that would result in all kinds of political and military upheaval in the centuries to come. The Persians, Egyptians, Seleucids, and Greeks would jockey for power, conquering one another and making the Middle East a volatile and unstable environment for years to come. All the way up until the rise of the Roman empire, Palestine would find itself in the middle of a power struggle between powerful nations, leaving the people of Israel as helpless pawns and easy preys for their enemies. The 400 years between the close of the Old Testament and the opening of the New Testament were some of the most tumultuous times on earth – just as God had said they would be. But they would end with the coming of the Son of God as an innocent human baby.

What does this passage reveal about God?

But Christ's first advent was designed to pay for sin and offer salvation and justification to all who would believe in Him. His first coming was to satisfy the just demands of a holy and righteous God who had to punish mankind for their rebellion against His sovereign rule. Jesus became the sin substitute, accomplishing for man what he could not have done for himself. Jesus lived a sinless life and lived in perfect obedience to the just requirements of God's holy law. He became the perfect, spotless Lamb who was sacrificed as a payment for the sins of mankind. His death made eternal life possible. He exchanged His righteousness for man's sins. He bore our burden and died the death we deserved. All in fulfillment of God's divine plan. But while His redemptive work is finished, His job is not yet done. He is coming again. He has unfinished business. The point of all prophesy is the future. In Daniel's case, he was given insight into events that would take place over the coming centuries. And all of what was recorded in chapter 11, verses 1-35 has taken place. The various kings and nations mentioned can be easily traced and the accuracy of the prophecies contained in these verses can be easily proven. So if what God said would happen has actually taken place, why would we not believe that everything else He promised would be fulfilled as well. God told Daniel that “there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time” (Daniel 12:1 ESV). He was speaking of the Great Tribulation, the missing seventieth week spoken of in Daniel 9. It will be a time of great trouble. Jesus Himself described it in these sobering terms: “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be” (Matthew 24:21 ESV). But God had good news for Daniel. “But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book” (Daniel 12:1b ESV). God would redeem a remnant of His people. He even told Daniel, “But go your way till the end. And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days” (Daniel 12:13 ESV). This does not mean that Daniel would live to see the end, but that he would be part of the faithful remnant who would undergo resurrection from the dead and stand before “the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Revelation 22:3 ESV).     

What does this passage reveal about man?

Jesus told us, “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains” (Matthew 24:7-8 ESV). The centuries have recorded a wide range of events, from wars to natural disasters. We continue to watch as the influence of sin on the world manifests itself in a variety of unsettling forms. There are days when it would appear as if the end was near. We even question whether it can get any worse. But Jesus said these things are simply the birth pains. They are the precursor to something even greater yet to come. Man's rebellion against God will continue to increase up until the bitter end. The period of the Great Tribulation will see the rise of the Antichrist and the greatest outpouring of persecution on the Jews that the world has ever seen. Sin will have reached its apex. Man's rebellion against God and Satan's war against God's people will come to a climax. And then God will step in.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

John records the stirring words of Jesus Himself, predicting His second advent. “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:12-13 ESV). He is coming again. God predicted it and He will bring it to pass. Again, Jesus says, “Surely I am coming soon”  and the response of those of us who call Him our Lord and Savior should be, “Amen. Come Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20 ESV). We should long for His coming. We should pray for His return. And while we wait, we should issue the words found in Revelation 22:17: “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Revelation 22:17 ESV). Jesus is coming again. And while there may appear to be plenty of time before that event takes place, we must live with a sense of urgency. We are to live soberly and righteously, as if His return could take place at any minute. We are to issue an invitation to everyone we meet, inviting them to “Come!” We are to point all those who are thirsty to the source of living water – Jesus Christ. And while we wait for His return, we are to do exactly what the angel told John, “Worship God” (Revelation 22:9 ESV). He is to be our focus. He is to be our source of hope. He is to be our help in times of trouble and our strength when we feel weak. We must constantly remind ourselves that God is not done yet. His will WILL be done. His plan WILL be fulfilled. His Son WILL return. His Kingdom WILL come. And sin WILL be no more.

Father, You are worthy of worship. You are deserving of my praise and my trust. You have proven Yourself trustworthy and true time and time again – in history and in my life. Your Words always come true. Your prophecies always get fulfilled. Your will always comes to pass. Help me to live in light of those realities. And, come Lord Jesus, come! Amen

To Him Who Is Able.

Isaiah 33-34, Jude 1

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. Jude 1:24-25 ESV

One of the difficult things about reading the book of Isaiah is how it mixes together events that will take place in the not-so-distant future and those that have yet to take place. Within a single chapter you will have prophecies concerning the coming destruction of Judah at the hands of the Assyrians, and predictions of the Millennial Kingdom of Christ. There would be more immediate fulfillments of many of the prophecies contained in the book of Isaiah. But some of them would be partial in nature, to be fulfilled in their entirety in the end times. God's divine plan has an end to it. There is a final aspect to His dealings with mankind and the people of Israel. And yet, He is operating in time and space, all along the way, orchestrating events in such a way that all things will culminate on His predetermined schedule. God told Isaiah, “Now I will arise…now I will lift myself up, now I will be exalted” (Isaiah 33:10 ESV). There is a day coming when God will implement the final phase of His great plan. “For the Lord has a day of vengeance, a year of recompense for the cause of Zion” (Isaiah 34:8 ESV). The difficult we face is our inability to see what God has planned out into the future. We are limited in our perspective. So God told us what would happen. He gave us a glimpse into the future. He provided us with an assurance that He has it all taken care of and there is nothing for us to worry about.

What does this passage reveal about God?

The people of God would find themselves falling victim to the attacks of Assyria and Babylon. The northern kingdom of Israel would end up destroyed and living in captivity in Assyrian. Not long afterwards, the southern kingdom of Judah would fall to the Babylonians and end up in living in exile for 70 years. But God was not done yet. He would eventually restore them to their land. He would keep His promise to Abraham and allow them to return to the land of Canaan. He would miraculously provide for them so that they could rebuild the city of Jerusalem, restore the walls that surrounded it and reconstruct the temple that had been destroyed by the Babylonians. But they would find themselves without a king. Over the next centuries, they would be relatively powerless and helpless, unable to defend themselves against outside forces and constantly ending up the pawns of more powerful forces. But God was not done with them yet. He would eventually send His Son to be born as one of them. He would grow up among them. He would preach a message of repentance to them. But they would eventually reject Him, demanding His death. But again, God was not done with them. God's ultimate plan for His people, the Jews, involves a yet-to-be-fulfilled event that still looms out in the future. Isaiah is given a glimpse of that yet future event. “Your eyes will behold the king in his beauty” (Isaiah 33:17 ESV). “Your eyes will see Jerusalem, an untroubled habitation, an immovable tent, whose stakes will never be plucked up, not will any of its cords be broken. But there the Lord in majesty will be for us” (Isaiah 33:20-21 ESV). How easy it is to judge the faithfulness of God based on our limited perspective. How quick we can be to jump to conclusions and question God's sovereignty or doubt His love. But we must always remember that God is not done yet.

What does this passage reveal about man?

As God's people, this world will always be a place of difficulty and confusion. This world was never intended to be our permanent home. We should not allow ourselves to get too comfortable here. But because we have limited perspective and are unable to see very far into the future, we can find ourselves becoming infatuated and enchanted with what this world has to offer. We can end up expecting all of God's blessings to show up here and now, forgetting that His plan involves the hereafter. God has an eternal perspective, not a temporal one. Our greatest challenge is to keep our eyes focused on Him and not what we see happening around us. We must cling to His promises concerning the future. But the world will want us to see this life as our preferred destiny. We will find ourselves tempted to try and get all we can get now, to live for the moment. But God wants us to live for the future. So He has provided us with glimpses into what is going to happen. He has made it clear that there is a day coming when His Son will return and the final chapter of the story will be written. In this life, we will find ourselves surrounded by those who would tempt us to follow their lead, discounting the activity of God in our lives and dismissing the inevitability of the life to come. They will infiltrate the people of God, disguised as one of the flock, but with evil intentions and motivated by wrong motives. Jude described them in very stark terms: “For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4 ESV). He goes on to say that they “defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones” (Jude 1:8 ESV). “These people blaspheme all that they do not understand” (Jude 1:10 ESV). They are “grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires, they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage” (Jude 1:16 ESV). Basically, these people are worldly and devoid of the Spirit. He compares them to hidden reefs, waterless clouds, fruitless trees, wild waves and wandering stars. In other words, they can't be trusted.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

But there is one we can trust: Jesus Christ. He is able to keep us from stumbling. He is able to keep us in the love of God and protect us, even when we find ourselves surrounded by those who would deceive and distract us. Isaiah found himself surrounded by those who would reject not only his message, but his God. He had to be reminded that God was not finished, that He had a plan. God would prove Himself faithful. The test for Isaiah would be whether he would remain faithful to God as his world seemingly collapsed around him. He would have to trust God while his contemporaries continued to live in open rebellion to God. He would have to continue preaching his message of repentance when no one seemed to be listening or responding. Jude told his readers, “But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (Jude 1:20-21 ESV). We must remain faithful. We must trust that God will be faithful and send His Son to finish what He began. In the meantime we are to “have mercy on those who doubt, save others by snatching them out of the fire, to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 1:22-23 ESV). 

Father, You are trustworthy. I can rest in the knowledge that You have a plan that You are working and there is no one who can stop it. I must not let the presence of those who would distract or deceive me disturb me. You told me there would be those who would try to sneak in and take my focus off of the reality of Your sovereign plan and Your Son's eminent return. Help me stay faithful even if those around me decide to follow their own sinful desires. I want to remain blameless and true, dependent on You and determined to stay the course until the end. Amen

Strengthen the Church.

1 Corinthians 14:1-25

 And the same is true for you. Since you are so eager to have the special abilities the Spirit gives, seek those that will strengthen the whole church. – 1 Corinthians 14:12 NLT

Let love be your highest goal! Those are the words Paul uses to bridge his section on love and the specific application of that love when it comes to the gathering of the Corinthians for their worship services. Love is to be applicable and practical. It is not a feeling so much as it is an attitude and an action. Love must manifest itself in daily life. And for the Corinthians, one of the places where love was missing was their worship assembly. It would appear that they had an obsession with the spiritual gifts – with two of them in particular. Tongues and prophecy dominate this portion of Paul's letter and it was evidently because those were the two gifts that the Corinthians desired and practiced the most. But as Paul had stated earlier, they were doing so without love. Their use of those two gifts of the Spirit were not motivated by love, but out of pride. They had a preference for the two more spectacular gifts: Tongues and prophecy. But they were using them in such a way that they were causing confusion in the worship services. There were those who were speaking in tongues, but without an interpreter; a necessary requirement if others were to benefit from what was being said. All throughout this section, Paul emphasizes the need to build up, edify or strengthen the entire body. Tongues were really for the benefit of the individual or the unsaved. The key was that the hearer must be able to understand what was being said. At Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples and they spoke in tongues, they were speaking in foreign languages that none of them knew. But the Holy Spirit was directing their efforts in order to reach those in the audience who were foreigners and unsaved. They each heard the gospel in their own language and were edified. In the case of the Corinthians, they were speaking in tongues, or foreign languages, but to a room full of Greek-speaking people who had no idea what they were saying. So their words were unintelligible and unhelpful. It seems that when an individual spoke in tongues, the language he or she spoke was unintelligible to the speaker as well. They did not know what they were saying. That is why Paul would go on later in this chapter to give parameters or guidelines for the use of the gift of tongues in a worship setting. "No more than two or three should speak in tongues. They must speak one at a time, and someone must interpret what they say. But if no one is present who can interpret, they must be silent in your church meeting and speak in tongues to God privately" (1 Corinthians 14:27-28 NLT).

Remember, Paul's point seemed to be, "Let love be your highest goal." This concept was to govern even the use of spiritual gifts. To use your spiritual gift in such a way that it failed to build up the body of Christ was unloving. To covet a particular gift because it seemed more flamboyant or "spiritual" revealed selfishness, pride and arrogance, not a spirit of love. Christianity is not a solo sport. It is not about the individual, but is to be about the body. All throughout this letter, Paul has emphasized the need for unity, order, and brotherly love. In this section, he repeatedly emphasizes the non-negotiable need to strengthen the entire church. Self-edification and self-gratification were not to be the goal. Paul was not diminishing the role of the spiritual gifts, but reminding the Corinthian believers that the gifts were given by the Spirit for the benefit and overall edification of the body, not the individual. For Paul, the motivation was always to be the instruction and edification of the body. "But in a church meeting I would rather speak five understandable words to help others than ten thousand words in an unknown language" (1 Corinthians 14:12 NLT). Just like the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control), the gifts of the Spirit were always to be other-oriented, not self-centered.

Everything God does has order and purpose behind it. The gifts were given to build up the body, not the individual. When we allow our spiritual gift to become a prideful, self-centered sign of our own spiritual significance, we miss the point and turn what God had intended for good into something destructive and divisive. But if we remember that love is to be our highest goal, the tendency toward self-centeredness will fade into the background as we focus our attention and our gifts on the building up of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Father, we find it so easy to make it all about us. We are inherently self-centered in our outlook and have the unique capacity to make even the spiritual gift You have given us all about us. We fail to realize that even our salvation was not just to save us from sin and secure us eternal life, but to make us ambassadors for the cause of Christ on this planet. Otherwise You would have taken us when You saved us. But You left us here and placed us in the body of Christ, and equipping us with the tools we need to minister to and build up one another. continue to give us a passion for serving and loving one another like Christ had. May love be our highest goal. Amen.